The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge #14 (re-do) and #15 -- Sacred or Profane: Deviled Beef Bones

Deviled Beef Bones.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The Challenge -- Sacred or Profane: "In this challenge, be as divine or as devious as you like! It could be a food with connections to a religion, a dish served for sacred celebrations, or a concoction with a not-so-polite name. Whatever your choice, show us how naughty and/or nice you can be!"

In looking for recipes to fit this challenge, I thought about making a Nun's Cake, or even a "bowl of smoking Bishop" as mentioned in The Christmas Carol, but in looking for fresh marrow bones to re-do the Florentine of Marrow from the previous challenge, I found a recipe for Deviled Beef Bones that sounded interesting.  Plus, it can be a (very) late entry for both the Fear Factor and Sacred or Profane challenges!

The history of eating bone marrow goes back to prehistoric times.  Archaeologists are always finding bones and bone fragments in the kitchen refuse heaps that are dug up, and it seems that until the Medieval era, the bones were simply roasted or boiled for broth, and then broken to extract the marrow, which was then eaten as a dish by itself.  The 17th and 18th centuries seem to have been the heyday of marrow's popularity, with multiple recipes for marrow puddings, both boiled and baked, marrow tarts, pasties, fritters, and other sweet dishes.  By the 19th century, marrow seemed to be most popular as a dish of beef-bones, roasted or broiled, served with toast or potatoes, or some kind of starch.  Narrow little marrow spoons became available to make it easier to scoop the marrow out of the bones, especially since recipes often called for the bones to be served cut into fairly large pieces, more than an inch or two long.    

I found a recipe for Broiled Beef Bones from Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery (1875) on the Food Timeline website, and just underneath it, there was a recipe for Deviled Bones from the same book.  The second recipe wasn't long on instructions, so I improvised with the ingredient amounts, and consulted the first recipe for cooking time.  Deviled bones, or kidneys, or anything else in a Victorian recipe, is generally called that because it is intended to be cooked or served with a spicy sauce or spice rub containing lots of pepper, or horseradish, or other "hot" spices.  This recipe called for a spice rub of mustard, cayenne, and mushroom ketchup, which has ginger, pepper, and other warm spices in it. 

Never having eaten marrow bones, I had no real idea what to expect.  I didn't know how much marrow I'd get out of each bone, or what the texture would be like.  I don't have any marrow spoons, so I just used a table knife, and it seemed to work all right.  I had all the ingredients in my pantry, even the mushroom ketchup, so I made the recipe as written, and served the marrow with toast on the side, as instructed in a third recipe from the same cookbook. 

The Recipe: 
Beef Bones, Broiled.--There are a few dishes more appetizing than broiled bones, whether of beef, mutton, or poultry. Great attention should be given to the fire. If not clear the bones will be blackened and lose their nice delicate flavour. Divide them, if necessary, rub them with a little clarified butter, then with pepper, salt, and mustard, and broil over the fire for about five minutes. Serve alone or with sliced potatoes and very hot." 

ingredients for Deviled Beef Bones.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
"Bones, Deviled.--Make a mixture of mustard, salt, cayenne pepper, and a little mushroom ketchup; lay a coating of butter over the ones, then the mixture, and rub it well in, and broil rather brown over a clear fire."

"Marrow Bones.--Saw the marrow bones into neat pieces, cover the ends with a paste made of flour and water, tie them in a floured cloth and boil for two hours. Remove the cloth and crust, put a napkin in a dish, set the bones upright, and serve with dry toast. The marrow can be scooped out an spread on the toast with a sprinkling of pepper and salt, before sending to table; but it is so likely to get cold, that we suggest the above method. Marrow bones are bought generally with sliver-side of the round of beef, and weighed with the meat."
-- from Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations [Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.:London], 1875; The Food Timeline

The Date/Year and Region:
England, 1875.

Mustard spice rub for Deviled Bones.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
How Did You Make It: 
My beef bones came with some of the shank meat still attached, which I had to trim off.  That was, actually, the most difficult part of the recipe, since the meat was tough and had a lot of silverskin that I tried to cut off.  I chopped the meat into small chunks and used it for stew meat, and pre-heated the broiler.

Then, I patted the bones dry with paper towels, and made the spice mixture.  The recipe not specifying how much of each ingredient to use, I went with a heaping teaspoonful of mustard, about a teaspoonful of mushroom ketchup, ¼ teaspoon of cayenne, and a pinch of salt (since the mushroom ketchup was so salty).  I also set aside about 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to rub on the outside of the bones.  I covered my hands with rubber gloves (I keep surgical gloves to use for doing housework) and rubbed the butter all over the bones with my hands, putting any remaining clumps of butter in the bottom of a baking dish.  Then, I rubbed the mustard mixture all over the bones, trying to "rub it in well" as the recipe called for, but the coating of butter over the bones prevented it from soaking in, so I ended up putting about ¼ spoonful on top of each bone when it was in the dish.  I put the dish of bones in the boiler for 5 minutes, and then turned the bones over and broiled them for another 3 minutes on the other side. 

Time to Complete:
About 20 minutes, mostly to trim the meat off the bones! 

Total Cost:
The bones cost me $10, and everything else was in my pantry, but it would have cost a few more dollars if I'd had to buy the container of mustard, the cayenne, and the ingredients for mushroom ketchup separately. 

How Successful Was It?:
It smelled good while it was cooking, but eating it was somewhat less exciting.  When I ate the marrow, it came out of the bones really easily, although the marrow in the thickest bone was still pink in the middle!  It was more gelatinous in texture than I expected – I guess I thought it would be more like soft butter – and didn't really have much flavor at all.  I couldn't taste the mustard or spices at all.  Maybe I didn't do it correctly, but I wasn't really impressed with it: very oily, and while not bad-tasting, I couldn't really detect much flavor in it at all!  I don't know how it's supposed to be, though, so I'm not sure how successful it was.  It is a very simple recipe, which is nice, and I wonder if it would be much better broiled over a wood fire.  If it's supposed to be much more flavorful, then when I find out what I did wrong, I might try this recipe again; if not, then I don't know that I would make beef bones again.

How Accurate Is It?: 
About 95%, barring my modern oven, and any mistakes I might have made in preparing the bones. 


"Marrow bones" article on the Food Timeline site 

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)